By Tamara Girardi
I’m excited to write my debut post for Working Stiffs. Thanks to Annette for inviting me.
After attending the PennWriters conference this weekend, I began thinking about how my work has progressed in the last year. I started writing THESE WALLS CAN TALK, a YA paranormal novel in January 2009. Four months later, I pitched it at the PennWriters Conference in Pittsburgh.
The book’s about a 17-year-old ghost hunter named Leia who learns she has a psychic ability known as retrocognition. She can step into rooms and see the history that occurred there, including secrets some would kill to keep hidden.
A few agents at PennWriters requested pages. Two weeks later, I attended the Backspace Conference in New York City. Other agents requested pages.
I thought I was golden.
But then I learned an interesting concept does not equal book sold. Those pages the agents request really matter.
Here’s the thing I’ve learned: writers query and submit pages way too early. I’m guilty of it. I’ve heard agents chirp about other writers who commit the writing crime.
Let me offer a concession here. Sometimes agents do take on work that isn’t quite ready with the promise the author will work with said agent to revise, revise, revise. However, it’s not common because many agents lack the time for such efforts.
I remember the weeks it took to write THESE WALLS CAN TALK. Yes, it took four weeks, which should be the first clue significant revisions were necessary. I write fast, but the manuscript didn’t honor every element of good novel-writing. The scenes did not link in a cause and effect manner. Some scenes didn’t advance the plot at all (thank you to Nathan Bransford for pointing that out to me so graciously). The characters weren’t always true to themselves and at times behaved rather wishy-washy.
In other words, it wasn’t ready.
But I had worked on it for months. I had done everything I could. It HAD to be READY.
The problem was I didn’t know how to fix what I had created. So, I read books on writing, took several online writing classes through PennWriters, participated in workshops and critiques with the Sisters in Crime, and found a really good critique partner.
The knowledge I collected from these sources served as a translator, clarifying the comments many agents had offered me along the way. Sparks of revision ideas soon followed those “Aha” moments. I kept a notebook with me at all times, and when I thought of a way to better connect scenes or to show character traits more consistently, I wrote it in the notebook.
The notebook is now filled with page after page of scribbles that will make the story better.
I wanted the book to be as good as it could be when I submitted it to agents a year ago, but I didn’t have the experience and knowledge to identify the mistakes I was making. That’s the difference a year makes. I can only imagine the tips and skills I’ll pick up in this next year.
If there’s one lesson I’ve learned over all others, it’s DO NOT SUBMIT UNTIL YOUR MANUSCRIPT IS ABSOLUTELY READY. There’s no rush. I know electronic publishing has created a major debate regarding the disappearance of traditional books, but publishing really isn’t going anywhere. Agents want to see the best work you can present to them.
If that takes a month, or two, or six, that’s fine.
Yeah, you’re making them wait. Not the best scenario. But think of the alternative. You have this great opportunity – an agent interested in your concept – but the pages aren’t ready, and instead of an opportunity for when they are ready, you end up with a rejection and a manuscript crying out for revision.
Instead, let your work rest before rushing to send it. Search for a few beta readers. Offer to exchange a critique with another writer nearing submission. You’ll learn as much from identifying what works and doesn’t in that writer’s manuscript as you will from the comments he or she provides you.
Sign up for an online writing class and as you learn, evaluate your manuscript. Is it excellent on all levels? Pick up a writing book like Story by Robert McKee, How to Write a Breakout Novel or Fire in Fiction by Donald Maass, or any others that look appealing to you. Read them actively. Complete the exercises.
Do your scenes, characters, plotlines, twists, and all other tidbits in your book still classify as excellent?
If so, go ahead and send that manuscript off to the agent(s) who requested it.
If not, writing is rewriting.
So, time to come clean. Have you ever queried or submitted pages to agents or editors too early? How did it work out?